Falkirk budget row rages on

Uncertain time for Falkirk Council workers as budget cuts bite
Uncertain time for Falkirk Council workers as budget cuts bite

A furious war of words has broken out between Falkirk Council and a union as the local authority attempts to reduce its workforce in a bid to balance the books.

The £335 million revenue budget unveiled by Councillor Craig Martin last week included a raft of savings for 2015/16 and the following year. The council said it faces an estimated funding gap of £46 million over the next three years and cuts, however unpalatable, need to be made.

This followed on from dealing with budget gaps of £70 million in the past eight years.

The council leader told members that although Falkirk Council prided itself on never having had to make workers redundant, the reality of the current financial crisis and “attack on local government” by both the Holyrood and Westminster governments was that 430 jobs would have to go.

He said: “This council, like most others, has embarked on a voluntary severance scheme and at present over 400 employees have shown an interest.”

But this week the GMB union hit out at the council for what it said were plans to rescind the notice to terminate and re-engage its 7000 workers and change their terms and conditions of employment.

Christina Lambie, GMB Scottish organiser, said: “Falkirk Council has already told the trade unions that they have a funding gap of £46 million over the next few years. We also know that the council wants 430 redundancies and wants to cut the terms and conditions of employment by £1.5 million.

“However, for the council to come to a workforce that has already seen the standard of living drop due to low or no pay increases over the past few years and that has seen an increase in workloads due to reduction in staff numbers, to tell them their contracts of employment are going to be terminated before any meaningful negotiations have taken place is absolutely shocking.”

She urged the council to withdraw the “threat hanging over the heads of the workforce”.

Last week, the local authority said it was following the correct procedure.

A spokesperson said: “The claim the council has issued a notice to the unions to terminate the employment contracts of 7000 staff is completely untrue and it is disappointing the GMB’s actions have caused increased concern and uncertainty for staff at a time when the council is trying to take a measured approach to a difficult situation.”

They added that the unions had been told of the need to reduce the workforce and because it had the “potential” to result in redundancies, a formal statutory notice had to be served.

“However, the unions are well aware that we are working to achieve these changes and savings in the main through not filling vacancies, reducing temporary and agency staff, redeployment and voluntary severance,” said the spokesperson.

“Compulsory redundancies will only be considered as a last resort and this has been very clear in all our discussions with the trades unions.”

They added that the local authority wants to negotiate with the unions to introduce modern terms and conditions of service that “reflect the council delivers services 24 hours a day, seven days a week” to meet the needs of communities.